Capita’s cancer screening blunder hits 50,000 NHS patients

Capita’s failure to send out cervical cancer test results condemned as ‘gross incompetence’

More than 40,000 women have not received information on cervical cancer screening after the NHS contractor Capita failed to send out letters.

The problem, which occurred between January and June, affected 43,200 women who were supposed to receive an invitation or a reminder but received only one of the two, and also led to the delays of 4,508 results letters, the company said.

Capita said only a small proportion of the results required further examination, and the affected patients should all have been contacted directly by their GP. NHS England said there was no evidence so far that anyone had come to harm.

The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors in the UK, said it was the latest in a series of blunders by Capita, which is contracted to provide GP back-office services. The BMA has written to the NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, urging him to strip the company of the contract and take the services back in-house.

Dr Richard Vautrey, the BMA GP committee chair, said: “This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita.

“Some women will now be left extremely anxious because they have not received important correspondence, particularly letters about abnormal smear test results that need urgent follow-up. This has been caused solely by Capita’s incompetence.”

About 3,000 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which kills about 850 a year. Women aged between 25 and 49 who are registered with a GP receive an invitation to screening every three or five years, depending on their age, but there have been concerns about a sharp rise in those ignoring invitations.

Robert Music, the chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the charity had highlighted problems with the IT system supporting the screening programme to the Department of Health and Social Care on multiple occasions.

“It was called not fit for purpose in 2011 yet no progress has been made,” he said. “This is a disgrace and the fact that it is now affecting women both in terms of being invited and getting their results is completely unacceptable.” He called for an urgent review to ensure the cervical screening programme was “safe and future-proofed”.

In May, Whitehall’s spending watchdog found that Capita had put patients at risk of serious harm after taking over NHS England’s administration service.

The National Audit Office said failures resulted in 87 women being notified incorrectly that they were no longer part of the cervical screening programme and may have compromised patient safety. It also said patients may have been harmed because of a failure to update the official list of 37,000 qualified GPs, dentists and opticians.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “Every woman’s case is being reviewed, but there is no current evidence that this incident has led to harm to the women involved, and our priority now is to ensure that anyone affected by this incident is contacted, and knows how to get checked if they are due a cervical screen.”

NHS England entered a seven-year, £330m contract with Capita in August 2015 to deliver primary care support services covering payments to GP practices, opticians and pharmacies, staff pensions and changes to the lists of qualified practitioners.

A Capita spokesman said GPs or screening clinics had the primary responsibility to notify women of their test result, although the BMA disputed this. The Capita spokesman added: “The risk to women of this incident is low and there is no current evidence of harm, but Capita nevertheless apologises to both the NHS and to the women whose correspondence was delayed.”


Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

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